Phil Hay: GFH & Haigh should leave Leeds United out of their bitter row

Elland Road.
Elland Road.
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Gulf finance house and David Haigh should leave Leeds United out of their very public squabble says YEP chief football writer Phil Hay.

Leeds United’s accounts for the 2013-14 season go to the Football League next week. They might actually be in the mail by now, ready for Monday’s deadline.

Analysis of 12 months in the hands of Gulf Finance House will demand a long drink and a comfy seat. Compiling them must have required Valium.

Business accounts are notorious for their lack of specific detail but given that the events of the last financial year fall squarely on GFH’s head, these figures might be more explicit than most. How much we see and when we see it depends on the club – Companies House don’t publish the accounts until the end of March – but at some stage the books will open.

If the numbers and the financial management exonerates GFH then we’ll take it back. We had them all wrong. They used to tell us that we had them all wrong, the Bahraini bank and David Haigh, but ordinary people take as they find. It’s hard to shake the impression of desperate men fighting over scraps of dignity when GFH and Haigh squabble as pathetically as they did last week.

The exchange between them was amusing, puerile stuff. Last Tuesday, the website of GFH Capital – GFH’s private equity firm – began re-directing Internet users towards pages it would rather not be associated with. By Friday, its Twitter account was tweeting personal contact details of senior GFH staff and other choice messages referencing to Leeds United. The website is still active but the Twitter account has gone. Enough fun for a few days.

GFH blamed “associates” of Haigh, who is under arrest in Dubai and facing allegations of fraud made against him by the bank. Haigh did not deny involvement but, in a long-winded response, accused GFH of hacking his own online accounts. This is how it went at the start of the year when Leeds were for sale and GFH and Haigh were desperately trying to tie Massimo Cellino’s money down: claim, blame, counter-blame, bulls***. A world of accusations where no-one was culpable and everyone else had more to answer for. Tired of it? I’d say we were.

The deflection was tiring. The flimsy PR was tiring. Among the points of interest in the 2013-14 accounts will be the amount of cash spent by Leeds on media agencies in that period, at a time when the club had a very capable press office. Tens of thousands of pounds, according to some. In a recent court hearing in Dubai – part of the ongoing dispute between GFH and Haigh – the judge, Justice Sir David Steel, stated that Haigh continues to spend around $10,000 a month on “PR/Media”. Old habits, dying hard.

Haigh’s latest statement, issued on Monday, ran to 1,315 words. Some of them are longer than Lord of the Rings. GFH is just as active when the subject of his arrest arises. It’s their prerogative but they are crossing a line in pretending that this is somehow Leeds United’s business; that Leeds United are at the centre of the argument. The truth is more brutal. The club want nothing to do with either of them. The club’s owner wants nothing to do with either of them. Cellino is in with GFH, a partner of sorts, but he would prefer to see them gone from Elland Road. Given the chance he would end GFH’s time as minority shareholder tomorrow.

What GFH wants from Leeds beyond money and a profitable return is unfathomable.

When it negotiated its Share Purchase Agreement with Cellino, the bank demanded specific shareholder rights: a corporate box on level four of Elland Road’s East Stand, two seats in the Lord Harwood Suite, two executive seats at away matches and parking spaces for both of its directors. Except it never uses any of that. It never comes near the green rectangle. Perhaps they don’t fancy the welcome they would get in Leeds. Or perhaps they are that disinterested.

Haigh made a fascinating comment in Monday’s statement. “GFH have no place in Leeds United and having been the one that (brought) them, I can only apologise to you,” he said, for the benefit of the club’s support. “I feel at least in part at fault for the shambles they created and the mess they left behind.”

Diminished responsibility, in other words, for a company he represented without knowing its true colours. A company he worked for at a senior level from December 2007 to April 2014. A company he was ready to discuss employment with again when GFH Capital invited him out to Dubai in May, only to have him arrested. It’s a poor attempt to play to a crowd who already hold the pre-Cellino regime in total contempt.

Haigh’s situation in Dubai is intolerable. There’s no morality in a legal system which detains someone without charge for six months.

The only caveat to that is that he does have the right to bail. It’s simply been set at the exorbitant cost of £3.5m and Haigh appears to have no-one rich enough or supportive enough to offer surety.

Without seeing the intricate details of the allegations against him or sitting through detailed court sessions in Dubai, all you can hope is that justice prevails. But there are two separate processes here: one, a legal case between GFH and Haigh over alleged financial irregularities. And the second, an attempt to apportion blame for all that went on at Elland Road during the 16 months when GFH had its way with the club.

On Monday, Haigh accused Hisham Alrayes – GFH’s chief executive and an ex-Leeds director – of instructing private investigators to remove data from computers in the Elland Road offices of former chairman Ken Bates, former chief executive Shaun Harvey, former technical director Gwyn Williams and former manager Neil Warnock. “This was carried out without permission or knowledge of the staff or those who were targeted,” Haigh said.

The claim is extraordinary but it is also vague. When exactly did this happen and how did it happen? What information did the investigators remove? When did Haigh learn of this and were Bates, Harvey, Williams or Warnock told of the raid? And if not, why not?

It brings to mind so much of what was said from January onwards: scratch beneath the surface and the substance is light. The accounts will expose more than any of the bitching. We’re being asked to pick sides and if any of it made any material difference to Leeds United then we might. But this isn’t football. Football is the games that GFH doesn’t want to watch. It’s the away crowd of almost 7,000 at Blackburn which neither they nor Haigh has ever been part of. It’s what’s happening on the ground and on Cellino’s difficult watch.

Quite whose interests are being served by this bitter dispute is hard to say but it’s easy enough to work out whose interests aren’t. So fight amongst yourselves, do what you have to but leave the club out of it. And give us peace.


Jordan Ibe is due at Elland Road with Derby County this afternoon, an 18-year-old loanee from Liverpool.

Alex Mowatt will be on the other side of the halfway line, a fixture in Leeds United’s first team.

The last time these two players shared the same pitch was at Anfield in March of last year. Ibe scored twice and Mowatt caught the eye as Liverpool’s Under-18s eliminated Leeds in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup.

That’s the beauty of the Youth Cup. It’s a little glimpse of the future. The competition doesn’t allow for an over-age quota or any bending of the rules. It’s pure, unadulterated Under-18s football which jogs your memory a few years down the line.

Mowatt’s accomplished performance at Anfield – one of many in a season when he captained the Under-18s to the league title – put his hand up for a first-team debut. Ibe’s did likewise.

The following month, the winger played for Liverpool in a 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers and again at home to Arsenal a year later.

He’s on loan at Derby County now and, like Mowatt, faring well. Others who played on Merseyside that night have come to prominence at Leeds – Lewis Cook, Chris Dawson, Lewis Walters, Alex Purver and Kalvin Phillips. Richard Naylor, who was Under-18s coach at the time, predicted as much.

“Some of them will definitely have a career in the game,” he said.

“Don’t worry about that.”

Leeds enter this season’s competition in the third round on Tuesday, at home to Chelsea. The scenario is similar to their tie at Liverpool two years ago: a squad which United have high expectations of against a group of players assembled at great expense.

Chelsea are top of their development league and took Arsenal’s Under-18s to the cleaners a week ago. The prospects of young players at Stamford Bridge is a moot point of discussion when each summer brings a Fabregas, a Diego Costa, or both but Chelsea spare nothing on their academy or their operations in general.

The unusual kick-off time of 7.05pm on Tuesday has been agreed at the request of Chelsea TV, slotting into their daily schedule. Tickets for Elland Road on Tuesday cost £5 for adults and £2.50 for concessions.

There are far worse ways to spend a fiver.

The FA Youth Cup is today’s kids becoming tomorrow’s players – as Mowatt and Ibe, the picks of the game at Anfield, have both proved since that match.

Paul Heckingbottom.

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